Capsule's founder explains how the digital platform is giving New Yorkers access to more convenient and transparent prescriptions, integrating technology into a slow-to-adapt industry to elevate the pharmacy experience

Capsule is a new kind of pharmacy—in its own words, a “better, smarter, kinder pharmacy.” With an app-based platform that offers home delivery via messenger and high-touch digital chat or text services, the company has made a name for itself  as a millennial-friendly alternative to the physical pharmacy chain experience.

Though Capsule's services are currently only available in New York City, the company has plans for expansion and is optimistic about its ability to bring truly functional ecommerce to the pharmacy sector at large. PSFK spoke to founder and CEO, Eric Kinariwala, about the values that power his brand both internally and externally, and the digital advantages he plans to leverage as the company expands.

What trends are you seeing impact the healthcare space today, and how are you leveraging them in your work?

Eric Kinariwala: We think about healthcare grouped into a few different categories. There's the way you see your doctor. There's your pharmacy. There's your hospital. There's your insurance company. Then there are things that the consumer doesn't really see, like drug manufacturers.

What we're interested in is the most frequent consumer behavior in healthcare. It turns out, it's the pharmacy. People go to the pharmacy much more than they interact with anything else in the healthcare system. It's no surprise that we're seeing the most innovation in healthcare starting at the pharmacy—it's the thing that feels and looks the most ‘retail' and ‘consumer' than anything else in the healthcare world.

If we're trying to build trust with people—and that's the point of excellent healthcare—that is done through that frequency of interaction. Our goals were, how do we build a pharmacy system that is an amazing experience, that builds trust with consumers and that gives them control over their healthcare?

We've built a pharmacy that's simply to use and makes it easy for consumers to access expert advice. We also ensure total price transparency before they pay for a medication. We'll work with customers to find coupons to bring the price of the medication down. We will drop it off at their house, their office, whatever they want. They can manage that whole experience on the mobile app or via text messaging. On the back end, we'll coordinate with their doctor, month after month, to make sure that they never run out of refills or medication when they need it.

The key insight for me has actually been around control and not around convenience. What we find, and what people are craving particularly in healthcare, is control of the experience, control over their healthcare. That's a result of two things. One is that healthcare has been dominated by these massive companies—UnitedHealthcare, CVS and Walgreens—that traditionally don't have modern consumer experiences.

They make customers operate around their schedule, their stores, their operating hours, their hold times. Things come when they'll come. People are basically powerless as consumers. It can be incredibly frustrating. We've inverted that. We've given the consumer control over their experience in every way that they can have it.

Who is your target customer, and what needs are you helping address?

We built Capsule to work for everybody, whether you're a new mom that has an infant, a busy professional or an elderly person. We have a pretty broad range of customers.

Almost 70% of Americans took medication last year. It is something that impacts everybody. That's what we built Capsule for. That's why you can use it in an app. You can use it on a website. You can call us. You can use it over text message. We've built it in a way that gives every consumer, depending on where they are and how comfortable they are with technology, the ability to have a better experience.

Being online-only, what alternative or substitute does Capsule provide for customers who might be used to in-person interaction, like at the pharmacy for instance?

We find that what people actually love more than face‑to‑face interaction is being able to interact with a real human but do it in a way that feels private and secure. Most people don't want to talk to the pharmacist with 20 people in line behind them hearing all of their medical information. They want to do that in a pretty private way.

Also, people often don't have questions right when they're picking up their medication—they have them later. “Oh, did my doctor say, ‘Take this with food,' or, ‘Don't take this with food'?” At that point, they're unable to access a pharmacist.

For sure, there is going to be a subset of people who like going to the pharmacy, or who have a great relationship with their existing pharmacist. We are believers that everybody should have a great pharmacy experience. If your pharmacy experience is working for you, we think you should keep using that. But we've found that that is a very minor percentage of the overall population.

Design‑wise, Capsule is different from a legacy pharmacy chain, like CVS or Walgreens. Could you go into the intention behind your branding and packaging?

Capsule is different. We've put a lot of time, effort, care and love into building a brand that engenders trust. In terms of the way we speak, the tone of voice is unique. If you've seen the subway ads or text messages, we say, “Hello, dear.” We sign off our physical notes with, “Love you.” The general idea is your mother as the pharmacist. She would take care of you. She would tell you the price. She would make sure you never ran out of medication. She would bring it to your door.

Then we have our brand values. The best brands in the world are internally and externally aligned. What that means is that the brand promise to the customer is the same as the promise made to the team internally. Our brand promise is that everybody needs some looking after sometimes.

That's our way of looking after the people who use Capsule. What we've done internally is to make sure that we have that same ethos. Everybody on the team looks after each other and that enables them to do their best work, providing the best work to our customers.

Could you explain how Capsule works on the consumer side?

There's two ways you can use Capsule. One is consumers can basically go to the website or download the app, put in six pieces of information. Then we actually transfer their prescription to Capsule. Capsule becomes their pharmacy.

Customers have the ability to schedule a delivery for the same day or whenever they want it. They can text or chat with a pharmacist. They have price transparency. They can manage medications right from the phone or computer.

The other way customers can use it is right in the doctor's office. They don't need to create an account. All they have to do is tell their doctor, “Capsule.” We're already in their electronic medical records system. They hit Send. We get it. We send a text message to the patient immediately saying we got their prescription, which is super important.

From there, the process is the same: They've got the ability to text or chat with a pharmacist and schedule same‑day delivery. We look up insurance along the way. We apply any coupons that are available to make sure that they're getting the best price. It's three clicks and done.

From the back end, we built our own pharmacy. It's on 25th Street. People can walk in if they want, but most people prefer the convenience of delivery. We serve all five boroughs of New York City. The entire messenger network are employees of Capsule. They're background checked, HIPAA trained and really wonderful people.

Right now you're just in New York. Do you have plans to expand to other cities?

The plan in the next couple years is to take Capsule everywhere. There's nothing special about New York that makes it any different from doing this in other places. We're excited to bring it to a lot of different cities and markets over the coming years to do that.

What does Capsule have planned for the future?

It's interesting to think about the things that are trickier to do online. It's mainly three categories: real estate, financial services and healthcare, and there are three common threads through those. One is that they're regulated. Two is that they're super high‑friction and high‑trust categories. They can be a risky transaction.

You can't eliminate the need of a human. You need to build a product and technology that blends the human with the experience. You're not going to buy a $800,000 condo online. You're going to talk to a human before you do that. It's the same thing in healthcare.

In these categories, you can't just put up a website, buy a bunch of Google keywords and build a good business. You're going to have to build real brands that people care about, that they trust, that they engage with. These are big life decisions for consumers and their family. You don't want to learn that you have diabetes from a WebMD symptom checker. Maybe you want an algorithm figuring out whether you have diabetes, but you want a human telling you what to do about it. You want to blend the best of both.

It's pretty insane how big pharmacy is and how many people it touches, and how non‑technologically integrated it has evolved to be over the last 50 years. As ecommerce continues to evolve, these categories and companies are going to be the ones that elevate the role of the human instead of eliminating it.

That's one of the things that we've done really well. It ties back to the brand and the culture piece, why Capsule feels magical, why it's not a chatbot. The human part of the business combined with the technology is the magic.

Eric Kinariwala.


Capsule is using technology to eliminate the pain points of an everyday consumer experience, taking customer service to the next level. For more from similar innovators, see PSFK’s reports and newsletters

Lead image: stock photos from Jacob Lund/Shutterstock